Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Transgender Woman Suing LPGA for Right to Play

Lana Lawless is a 57 year old transgender woman who is suing the LPGA for the right to play in LPGA sanctioned events. The LPGA policy states that a competitor must be “female at birth” to be eligible to play in LPGA events. They adopted this policy in the late 1970’s after Renee Richards successfully sued the USTA for the right to play in women’s professional tennis events. In 2008, Lawless won the women’s division of an annual Long Drive competition with a 254 yard drive. The Long Drivers of America, who sponsor this competition has since changed their eligibility rule to match the LPGA’s “female at birth” requirement. Lana is suing them too.

The United States Golf Association, the Ladies Golf Union in Britain and the Ladies European Golf Tour have all adopted the International Olympic Committee policy which enables transgender women athletes to compete in women’s competitions if they meet several criteria, including competition of sex reassignment surgery, two years of hormone therapy and changing the sex designated on official identity documents. Mianne Bagger, another woman who has undergone gender transition, has been playing in Europe and Australia for several years without incident.

The LPGA has, despite some pressure to address the participation of transgender golfers, failed to change their policy, which specifically prohibits transgender women from competing in LPGA events. It was only a matter of time before this day came. The LPGA’s failure to address this issue proactively now means they will do it in the glare of media and in reaction to a lawsuit. Not the best way to consider policy change.

In an unexpected twist, Renee Richard, in an interview in the New York Times article, is ambivalent about whether or not she supports Lawless’ goal of playing in LPGA events. Richards believes that “physically strong” transgender women have an advantage over other women competitors and seems to think that decisions about whether or not transgender women should play should be made on a case by case basis. This reservation mirrors the IOC and IAAF policies on the participation of intersex women that were in effect when Caster Semenya’s eligibility to compete as a woman was challenged in the 2009 World Championships and then affirmed this fall. We have seen what a mess the “case by case” policy can be.

Having just spent the better part of a year working on a report that includes policy recommendations to colleges and high schools about the participation of transgender athletes, I have read a lot about and talked to several physicians about the question of whether or not transgender women athletes have an unfair physical advantage in women’s competition. We based our recommendations on the best information available at this time. We can only hope that this, and any other lawsuits like it, will also be decided on the basis of science and medical research and not on prejudice and fear. Time will tell.

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